Journal

Camp Harlam Pt. 1

If you didn’t know from my continuous inactivity on most if not all social media, I’ve been in America for the last three months. How this came about initially was a stroke of luck, running in to USA Summer Camps at a job fair for my university materialised itself into one of the best and most exciting journeys of my life. My decision to work at a summer camp from June to September was an extremely random one initially and mainly due to me wanting relevant experience in my area of interest. Little did I know however that the step that I was about to take would change me forever. I know dramatic right, but this mystical place nestled in the heart of Pocono Mountains in Kunkletown, PA would become one of the best locations that I would ever see and help me meet some of the best people that I would ever have the opportunity to call my friends.

June 17th 2017 finally arrived, it was the day that my trip from Ripon, North Yorkshire all the way to Pennsylvania was about to begin. The long application process, waiting to be hired, collecting my visa and what seemed like endless amounts of packing had lead to this. Nervous I found my seat on a Virgin Atlantic plane bound for JFK and waited for the landing. As the plane set off I was thinking two things 1. Turbulence is extremely bad over the Atlantic and 2. I wonder what the next 12 weeks would bring me, I hoped to learn more about myself and develop in a variety of skills but little did I know that my life was about to change forever.

Landing in JFK my biggest worry was navigating one of the largest cities in the world, New York. The big apple felt like a labyrinth to me and as I made my way through the crowds of people to my hostel for the night. I realised that this was only the start to my newest journey.

Camp Harlam Pt. 2

Arriving at the Port Authority the following day made the reality sink in even harder that what I had signed up for was finally beginning. Being greeted by two random guys from camp, Jack and Mitchell. I realised that the experience might not be all that bad (besides having to lug a twenty kilogram rucksack around NYC due to it breaking). From the outset everyone was extremely friendly and arriving at camp I heard an array of  “Welcome Home.” from multiple different people. Something which initially sounded stupid, but would later have a profound effect on me.

Upon arrival I was instantly worried about how I would fit in with such a wide and different variety of people. From Jewish to Hindu, women and men, gay and straight there were so many amazing and contrasting counselors that I immediately knew no matter what, I would fit in somewhere.

During staff week I continued to bond with everybody and began to fit in to my new role as a camp photographer, it allowed me to branch out in to an area of interest as well as be in such a different yet brilliant setting. The events that followed that week really were crazy and as we prepared for the almost five hundred campers that were about to arrive, I reflected on becoming not only a role model but also someone who these kids would trust and believe in. Which despite scaring me, had me more prepared than ever to continue my journey.

Camp Harlam Pt. 3

Staff week flew by and before I knew it the campers had arrived and I was surrounded by hundreds of kids relying on us to give them the best summer that they’ve ever had at camp. Taking an endless amount of pictures and stumbling through almost every Hebrew prayer were just some of the challenges that faced me over the coming weeks. However, despite these challenges seeming daunting the twelve weeks ahead of me would allow me to grow so much and multiple obstacles such as screaming kids and long days would show me how to overcome any challenge that faced me.

As time past Harlam truly was becoming home, through the colour wars and bunk hopping to Shabbat and song session. The campers and staff alike were truly beginning to feel like family. But next faced the hardest obstacle of all… saying goodbye.

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Camp Harlam Pt. 4

So after nine long weeks of working hard, becoming a leader and changing my entire perspective of what working at camp would be like. It was time to say goodbye, not only to camp but to the nearly one hundred friends that I had met. As the tears started to flow, I realised how very much I loved the people that surrounded me and how the friendships that I had made would last a lifetime. As I began my last breakfast at Camp Harlam for 2017, I reflected on the nine weeks that had just past and how the experience had transformed everyone in different ways. The campfires, the late nights, the stargazing and not to forget the task of looking after nearly five hundred kids. Of course we were tired (well nearer exhausted) but we had overcome so much and were better people for it.

Camp Harlam has changed me forever and I am definitely a better person because of it. As I approached the gates for the last time on my way to begin my travelling, there was only one last thing to say… until next time Harlam.

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Chicago

Arriving in Chicago, I realised immediately why American’s have nicknamed it “The Windy City” the brisk wind definitely was a surprise after nearly forty degree weather for the last three months. Despite this, I certainly wasn’t going to be deterred by the weather, the city had so much life and culture to offer and I was determined to discover every bit of it. Dumping my suitcase off at the hostel in Western it was time to begin my first official journey of America. Meeting my new roommates for the coming days I was thrown in to a mixed group of people from all around the world, it was then that I met Sarah and we instantly clicked, choosing to explore the city together the following day.

Being in Western, the most dominant Hispanic area in central Chicago. The first food that I wanted to try was a Tamale, these Mexican bundles of goodness originally looked like a Burrito so me being inexperienced decided to eat it like one (making a complete fool of myself) it was then that I realised you were meant to unwrap the food from the husk. Once I had eventually eaten the contents the Tamale was actually extremely nice both flavorsome and filling, I’d highly recommend them to anyone who likes Mexican or wants to try something different.

After rapping up on breakfast (pun not intended) we began our tour of Chicago with a stop at the tallest structure and second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the Willis Tower. This 108 story, 1450 foot building was one of the highlights of my stay in Chicago. For only $23 I got to see a 360 degree view of the city as well as stand on the Skydeck a major tourist attraction. If you ever visit Chicago I’d highly recommend a stop at this iconic landmark.

Taking a trip around Chicago I quickly realised how magical and different this city was, I compared it to an urban jungle with the numerous parks and lakes surrounding the city, alongside the Chicago Pier looking out to Lake Michigan which binary opposed the urbanised city centre filled with a variety of shops and tourist attractions. Chicago was quickly becoming one of my favourite places.

My next stop would the Museum of Contemporary Art being more of a fan of modern art I chose this museum over the slightly more popular The Art Institute of Chicago due to it’s more alternative and abstract view on art, something which I really enjoyed. A key artist that I found was really different and enjoyable would be Amanda Williams, the Chicago native focused her art on key topics such as socialism, class and race which was something I found extremely interesting. The primary pieces of work which I enjoyed were Color(ed) Theory a showcase which focused on the demolition of houses on the south side of Chicago in which Williams decided to paint them in a variety of colours to highlight the beauty she had found despite the opposing ideology that the area was common or decaying. Overall, the exhibitions on display at the MCA are well worth a visit, especially if you’re interested in the arts like myself.

My final stop for Chicago was Millennium Park a scenic and bustling area of inner city Chicago, it’s home to multiple great sculptural and art pieces. The best known being Cloud Gate aptly nicknamed The Bean due to it’s shape. Inspired initially by liquid mercury the design if made up of numerous plaits of steel welded together to create a concave sculpture which allows the viewer to see themselves through multiple reflections. The final design is seamless and due to its polishing gives a reflective surface which many tourists see as a photo opportunity (me being one of them). Millennium Park also offers great music events throughout the year, luckily when I stopped in town the Chicago Jazz Festival had arrived bringing with it a wide variety of amazing musicians and singers. Lasting from 10am through to the late night the music festivals are thoroughly enjoyable and are one of many reasons why people stop in Millennium Park.

So after all of this and many more, my time in Chicago came to an end. This beautiful city was a highlight to my travels in America and would definitely be a recommendation for anyone looking to travel. The city itself is not only amazing but the people are extremely welcoming and overall Chicago has so much to offer regardless of your interests.

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Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh home of the Penguins, Pirates and multiple bridges. Many people at camp looked at me distantly when I told them I was visiting Pittsburgh, but I found something about Pennsylvania’s second largest city quite refreshing. The chilled and laid back mood of Pittsburgh was something that initially interested me alongside the multiple great tourist attractions that I was going to visit.

My first stop in Pittsburgh was the legendary Andy Warhol Museum, renowned for being the largest collection of Warhol’s work in the world. I’ve always been a fan of Warhol and especially since taking up photography myself, so I was intrigued to see a number of his works as well as learn more about one of America’s greatest artists. The place had everything and was highly interactive letting the viewer in to Warhol’s life from birth to death including many of his acclaimed pieces, my personal favourite being a recreation of his Silver Clouds piece which consisted of numerous helium filled balloons placed in to one room showcasing an interactive and fun experience which both myself and friends enjoyed. A further standout for me would be his earlier work with Campbell and Coca Cola, viewing his earlier pieces and the way in which he revolutionised not only pop art but the whole industry was highly interesting for me. The museum also included a fifteen minute film about Andy’s life and took you on a journey through his moving to New York and finding his feet to The Factory and his work with Basquiat and Herring. I would say that for anyone stopping in Pittsburgh who is interested in art or just looking for an awesome experience, the Warhol Museum is definitely a great place to start.

Randyland has been a prime tourist spot for the past two decades and showcases the work of the wonderful Randy Gilson. My stop at this location was brilliant and allowed me to see one of the most colourful places in all of Pittsburgh at the same time as meeting Randy himself. The house located on Arch Avenue has numerous amazement’s and every inch is covered in colourful paintings all of which have been done by Randy himself. The ambition of Randy was something that I was in awe of, he has dedicated twenty years in to changing a rundown house and garden into something people couldn’t even imagine, all whilst working numerous jobs. He’s a true inspiration to anyone who has a vision or a dream. Upon leaving Randyland I felt a sense of joy and knew that this place was going to stand for a number of years and bring happiness to a lot more people.

Upon walking across America’s steel city, I realised just how beautiful the place actually was. Pittsburgh holds a really bad opinion from people outside of it and I simply don’t get why. It’s filled with interesting and quint things my personal favourite being the padlock bridge, which holds numerous messages written on to padlocks, taking inspiration from the Love Lock bridge in Paris. The city had so much to offer when it came to things like that and really was an interesting place for anyone who wanted a stay or somewhere to visit in America. Overall, I would highly recommend Pittsburgh to any traveler especially if your artistic like myself or just looking for somewhere to chill, for a north eastern city Pittsburgh truly was an amazing experience.

Philadelphia

The next stop on my American Road Trip took me to the largest and arguably best city in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Philly has so much life and energy along with a variety of different things to do. Meeting place of the Founding Fathers, Philly was home to numerous historical monuments such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall alongside bringing many first to the USA such as the first zoo (Philadelphia Zoo) and the first official hospital (Pennsylvania Hospital) not to mention my new favourite convenience store Wawa.

My first stop in the City of Brotherly Love was the monumental Liberty Bell, commissioned in 1752 the bell has long been a symbol of American independence. Located in the newly created Liberty Bell Center the bell is a major tourist attraction for Philadelphia and is viewed by thousands of people every year. The building itself is placed adjacent to Independance Hall where the bell used to be housed and includes multiple videos about the history of how the bell was created and came in to being. The Liberty Bell is definitely a must see for anyone interested in American history but also is extremely interesting to learn about an see. I really enjoyed viewing it and would say it contributes a lot to Philly’s history.

For anyone interested in arts and culture, Philly truly is a great place with a lot of tourist destinations. One of which is the historical Philadelphia Museum of Art, based just adjacent to the famous “Rocky steps”, this cultural destination is home to numerous paintings and sculptures from across the centuries and is home to one of Van Gogh’s sunflower series paintings. The museum is very overwhelming at first due to it’s sheer size however once you realise how easy it is to navigate you become more at peace with the place and can really enjoy the artwork on display. If you have time in Philly, I’d definitely recommend a visit to this museum in particular.

My last stop in the city of Philadelphia was the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, I’ve always enjoyed walks and seeing the sites of the entire city. The Ben Franklin Bridge allows visitors to walk across the connective bridge and see the entire of Philly. The bridge also connects Philadelphia with Camden, New Jersey. It’s a really awesome walk, especially if you’re looking for a great view. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone looking to grab any cool photos or really see the entire landscape of the city.

So, that was it my stay in Philly had come to an end. I really enjoyed my time and what the city had to offer. I would definitely recommend Philly to anyone looking for a really laid back and different city that has a lot to see.

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